Fratricidal Strife
2 Samuel 2:13-17
And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together by the pool of Gibeon: and they sat down…

And that place was called Helkath-Hazzurim (ver. 16). The hostile attitude assumed by Abner appeared to David to render necessary active measures in self-defence. It is not said that he inquired of the Lord. If he had done so the conflict which ensued between brethren might possibly have been averted. As it was, he sent an army of observation under the command of Joab, who (although not mentioned before) had doubtless accompanied him in his exile (1 Samuel 22:1), and was now general of his forces. And Joab and "the servants of David" marched to Gibeon and encamped opposite Abner "and the servants of Ishbosheth" (ver. 13). At length Abner, impatient of delay, challenged a conflict between certain picked men on each side, not merely "to see which were best" (Josephus), but either to decide the day by the issue or to draw on a general engagement. Joab readily accepted the challenge, and the conflict commenced. It was -

I. BEGUN RECKLESSLY. "Let the young men arise and play [fight] before us." "Let them arise" (ver. 14).

1. Self-interest, ambition, and envy often quench the love of brethren (vers. 26, 27), and indispose them to seek reconciliation with each other.

2. The indulgence of evil passion blinds men to the consequences of their words and actions.

3. Familiarity with scenes of strife and war tends to produce insensibility to human suffering and slaughter. That a deadly struggle could be spoken of as a pastime shows how lightly life was estimated and how heartlessly it was sacrificed. "Ambitious and bloody men often consider the dire trade of war and the slaughter of their fellow creatures as a mere diversion" (Scott).

"Some seek diversion in the tented field,
And make the sorrows of mankind their sport.
But war's a game which, were their subjects wise,
Kings should not play at."


II. WAGED FEROCIOUSLY. "And they caught each other by the head," etc. (ver. 16).

1. When the love which should prevail among brethren gives place to wrath, that wrath is generally most intense and cruel. Civil wars are proverbially more bitter than any other.

2. Men are sometimes so intent upon injuring their opponents as to forget to defend themselves, and rush upon their own destruction.

3. The attempt to end strife by means of strife is commonly vain; "it is rather a spur to further effusion of blood than a bridle to hinder the same." "What can war but endless war still breed?"

4. The issue of the conflict does not necessarily prove the justice of the cause.

5. Mutual strife tends to mutual extermination. "All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). The "field of sharp blades" was a lasting memorial of destructiveness rather than of courage; a warning rather than a pattern.

III. EXTENDED RAPIDLY. "And there was a very sore battle that day," etc. (ver. 17).

1. The strife of a few excites the wrathful passions of many, by whom it is witnessed.

2. Every injurious word and act furnishes an additional impulse to wrath and retaliation; and the conflict goes on increasing.

3. That which at first may be easily checked passes entirely beyond control. "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water," etc. (Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 26:21).

IV. ENDED LAMENTABLY. "Abner was beaten," and three hundred and sixty of his men died; Joab's brother Asahel was slain, with nineteen of David's servants. "In war God punishes the sins of both parties."

1. He who gave the challenge and commenced the conflict was the first to complain of the result (ver. 26), and was bitterly reproached as the cause thereof (ver. 27).

2. He who accepted the challenge was filled with grief and revenge.

3. Both sides experienced heavy loss and sorrow.

4. Even David could not but regret the weakening of the nation in presence of the common foe; or fail to see in the strife of brethren the consequences of his own faithlessness (1 Samuel 27:1, 10, 11). If he had not taken up his abode with the Philistines the conflict would probably never have occurred.


1. When men commence a quarrel they little know where it will end.

2. Strife should be diligently checked at the beginning.

3. "Let us fight that good fight only whereof the apostle speaks, which is between the flesh and the spirit, which only hath the profitable end, the glorious theatre, the godly armour, and the blessed reward of assured triumph" (Guild) - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together by the pool of Gibeon: and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.

WEB: Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met them by the pool of Gibeon; and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.

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